I attended the press preview of “Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set”, at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit spans the period from 1935 to 1940, and chronicles the elegance of cafe society in the years immediately preceding World War 11. Among the 80 outfits that are on display in five galleries, are couture designs by Chanel, Vionnet, Lanvin, and Schiaparelli.
When I asked Andrew Bolton- the Associate Curator of The Costume Institute, who organized this exhibit (with the assistance of Harold Koda), which his favorite group was…he quickly answered, “since I have such a pronounced dark side, Gallery 4 (called ‘The Aesthetics of Ruination’)….which is very ghoulish”. How fitting, since today is Halloween! To illustrate his point, he brought me over to the area he was referring to – and pointed to the Schiaparelli ‘Tear’ evening dress printed with tears, which came with a matching headscarf. Not only was the fitted gown covered with fictive tears, but there were actual tears on the headscarf, which was produced “as a response to the rise of Mussolini and as a “warning against the dangers of Fascism.”
Then he showed me a Vionnet black satin evening gown covered with black sequins which had the appearance of black birds (long considered to be an ill omen in dreams). As the brochure stated, “the birds seemed to swarm around the body of the wearer like ominous raptors.”
And then there was the Schiaparelli Fuchsia silk jersey evening dress with matching gloves, that was entirely covered with black sequined flies, suggesting “the pestilence of war”, and serving as “harbingers of disaster.” As the descriptive pointed out, the decorative insects “placed as they are, on pink fabric redolent of flesh, appear to be feeding off the raw flesh of a corpse.” Hmmmm, lovely thought….I wonder if these designs will serve as inspiration for some of today’s fashion….In this crazy business, one never knows!